Helping Former Foster Youth in Higher Education, 9:45 - 10:45 am

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

Despite the fact that former foster youth who go on to pursue a higher education are perhaps some of the most disadvantaged, there is a lack of both research on their needs and support services to help them through. During a session on Monday, presenters discussed the characteristics of former foster youth in higher education, and what colleges can do to help.

Jacob Gross of the University of Louisville described how little is actually known about former foster youth in education, despite the fact that the group could likely benefit from more study, considering that graduation rates for former foster youth range from 1 percent to 11 percent.

“There is almost nothing written in the research literature on former foster youth in higher education. And this is not an insignificant population of students,” he said. “This is a really under researched area.”

Still, what research that is available  on foster youth in general shows they’re less likely to complete high school and to be prepared for college, he said. Those that do enroll in college do so at lower rates, and face a number of barriers once they get there, such as a lack of institutional support, financial support, or student affairs educators that may be unfamiliar with their needs.

The limited amount of research on former foster youth also show some common characteristics about those who attend college. African-American students who are former foster youth are overrepresented, for example. The parents of former foster youth in education also tend to have a lower educational level. These students are also much more likely to delay enrollment, to enroll part-time, and to take remedial courses – all of which are associated with being risk factors for not completing. Former foster youth also enroll in two-year colleges and for-profit colleges at a higher rate.

“We need to be paying attention perhaps even more to the support systems in place for the former foster youth at community colleges and see what kind of support they’re getting there,” Gross said.

Financially, former foster youth are also on average taking out more in unsubsidized student loans, and are receiving less institutional aid than other students, Gross said. They tend to work more, have slightly higher credit card balances, and are a little more likely to rely on credit cards to pay for school.

Dan Davenport of the University of Idaho and Richard Heath of Anne Arundel Community College said that until recently, their experience with serving former foster youth had been limited, and that by working more with colleagues in their offices they came to better understand the unique backgrounds and needs of former foster youth.

“This is an opportunity for us as financial aid administrators to step beyond where we are professionally – all of the verifications and certifying loans, the things we’re being paid to do and are required to do – to identify these students, to develop relationships with the state and the counties in which we live … to be able to then share the expertise that we have because we know we can help them in the end," Heath said. "Whether we consider ourselves as do-gooders or not, in the end we’re doing good.”


Publication Date: 7/11/2016

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